Not only do the women of the family add their handed-down dolls to the golu display, the children also give their toys to be kept in the Golu padi—though it turns out to be a tough test for them as they are not allowed to play with or touch them during the festival.
Tanjore Golu dolls play an integral part in various rituals and customs of the southern India and in 2009, they were included in the much-coveted GI Registry of the government of India because of their cultural importance. On World Doll Day, Sahapedia takes a look at the Golu festival of Tamil Nadu where dolls occupy the centre stage.
By Sindhuri Aparna and Prathyusha Ravi
Dolls are perhaps one of the oldest toys that have been around for centuries. Terracotta figurines excavated at sites like Harappa suggest that dolls existed both as toys as well as for ritualistic purposes in ancient civilisations. While there is no denying the joy that dolls provide—children and adults alike—as objects of play, in many cultures, they continue to be used for rituals. Those familiar with pop culture would be acquainted with the Haitian voodoo dolls, as well as Japan’s famous Hinamatsuri festival, where intricately crafted dolls are displayed as a celebration of femininity.
On World Doll Day, we train our gaze closer home, towards the Golu (or Koluvu) festival of Tamil Nadu, where the every-day dolls are deified and occupy centrestage. Versions of this festival are also observed in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Golu or Koluvu is the festive display of dolls in south Indian homes during the nine-day festival of Navratri, which culminates with Dussehra. These dolls emerged under the patronage of the Nayaka and Maratha rule—around the 17th century—in Tanjore (now Thanjavur), which was once the capital of the Chola empire. There are two types—the Raja Rani bommai and the “urutu bommai”. While the Raja Rani bommai dolls depict the Maratha King Serfoji II and his consort, the “urutu bommai” is a pair of rocking dolls with hemispherical bases, which were included in the much-coveted Geographical Indications (GI Registry) of the Indian government (a statutory recognition of the toy’s geographical origin to this region) in 2009.
These dolls, made from natural materials such as wood, clay, terracotta and cloth, are painted with bright natural dyes and colours. They are known as golu in Tamil, bommala koluvu in Telugu and bombe habba in Kannada. In 2015, Tanjore dolls were also introduced as postal stamps and, today, restoration of golu dolls has turned into a major commercial activity. Various steps have been taken by the government to ensure the perservation of these traditional dolls.
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